Social Emotional Learning at top of NH’s to-do list when it comes to school safety

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CONCORD, NH – A task force focused on school safety preparedness issued a final report on June 19.

The Governor’s School Safety Preparedness Taskforce presented Gov. Chris Sununu with their findings, which comes after 90 days and more than 1,000 hours of research and discussion of the most pressing issues involving school safety and security.

The report will help serve as a model across the country for other states looking to strengthen school safety. The taskforce conducted a comprehensive review of the state, local, and federal landscape, sought and evaluated public comments, visited schools, met with school administrators, staff, students and parents, and held discussions with local fire, police and first responders. The report (see below) identifies 59 taskforce recommendations, which will help the state of New Hampshire prioritize safety preparedness initiatives.

The taskforce was charged with providing practical, actionable recommendations from areas of agreement among taskforce members in order to provide state and local leaders, school administrators, students, parents, and first responders with the proper tools and recommendations to ensure New Hampshire schools are the safest in the nation.

 “This report is the single most important document this state has ever produced surrounding school safety. Although some of the recommendations will take some time, there are several actions already underway including developing the tools our local school districts need to succeed and putting timelines in place for my commissioners to complete recommendations contained in this report,” Sununu said.

“One of the most important recommendations contained in this report is the need to expand social and emotional learning (SEL).  Many schools have SEL programs in place, but these programs may not be robust enough to be effective in these challenging times.  Programs have emerged that can be a tool for prevention not only for violence, but for addiction, suicide, and the toxic anxiety that has plagued our school children for too long,”  Sununu said.

“I’ve had the honor of working with Scarlett Lewis, who is the mother of Jesse Lewis, victim of the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. She is a national leader in social emotional learning and creator of the Choose Love movement.  As a state, New Hampshire will provide a backbone of support through Scarlett‘s program to introduce social emotional learning curriculum. Schools will certainly retain their autonomy to use programs that they are familiar with and have success with but we want to ensure that every student and school has the opportunity to benefit from proven SEL curriculum. Like all good programs the research can only take us so far. We need our amazing teachers and administrators to galvanize behind the concept of social emotional learning so that New Hampshire can be a leader in prevention services for our kids,” Sununu said.

The state is committed to providing as much assistance to schools as possible in implementing some of the 59 concrete recommendations put forward by the taskforce. While the assistance will come in a number of ways, below are a few examples:

  • A 24 hour anonymous tip line for students, teachers and parents
  • A one stop resource center for schools
  • A school based “See Something Say Something” campaign
  • Expanding Mental Health Resources

The State will work with schools to develop “Best Practice” documents, technical assistance or “Tool Kits” in a number of areas including but not limited to:

  • Development of a Threat Assessment Team
  • Emergency Communications
  • Alerting
  • Table Top Exercises
  • Parent Notifications
  • Reunification following a crisis
  • Security Measures

The State will work with school and first responders to develop training programs that are:

  • High quality and an appropriate amount of time
  • Designed to fit into the existing school “workshop day” format
  • Easily accessible
  • We will have trainers available and conduct train-the-trainers so schools can teach their own personnel where desired.  Some examples of these programs include but not limited to:

o   Enhanced Social and Emotional Learning

o   Raising the awareness and reducing the stigma of mental illness

o   Recognition of signs that help is needed

o   Crisis Management Training

o   Emergency Operations Plan Training

o   Incident Command training for school administrators

o   Expanding Suicide Prevention Programs

The State will work with the first responder community to provide:

  • Preplan response templates that can be adapted to their agency and school
  • Increase high stress training for our School Resource Officers
  • Increase “Warn Zone” EMS training

The School Safety Taskforce was comprised of a diverse group of Granite Staters  representing: First responders, Police Chiefs, Fire Chiefs, SWAT Officers, school administrators, principals, teachers, School Resource Officers, parents, School Board Members, citizens, members of the National Guard, mental health professionals, homeland security officials, emergency management directors, intelligence professionals, communication professionals, and private businesses.

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Office of Gov. Chris Sununu